This week's portion: wellsprings and dreams
The Chernobyler: food for spiritual life

A short poetry meme

Tiel Aisha Ansari tapped me to do a poetry meme that goes like this: list at least four things each you think a beginning poet should and shouldn't do: tag someone else. I fear my answers may be predictable -- and they apply as much to longtime poets as they do to beginners, come to think of it -- but as requested, here they are.

Four things to do:

  • Read. Voraciously. Read everything you can get your hands on. Specifically read poems, of course, but read prose too. Read poems by poets whose work you already know you enjoy, and read poems by poets whose work you think you don't enjoy. Consider choosing a poet whose work intrigues you, and then reading everything that poet has written. (I spent six months doing this with Elizabeth Bishop, and it changed my relationship both with her poems and with poetry in general.)

  • Write. Early and often. Try writing a poem a day for a while (a week? a month?) and see what happens. Poetry comes from some kind of ineffable wellspring which needs to be primed. Reading is one way to prime it. Writing is another. The best time to write a poem is when you've just written one.

  • Find a reader you trust. Maybe a friend or a teacher; maybe a fellow poet; maybe a fellow blogger. It's good to have someone reading your work regularly. I find that my relationship with my own words changes when I know someone is going to read them. (As a corollary, you might want to become adept at expressing to your reader what kind of feedback you're looking for.)

  • Memorize. A memorized poem becomes a companion, something one can recite to oneself on bus rides or in a grocery checkout line or at times when poetry is particularly needed. Right now I'm working on memorizing a rather long prayer from the Jewish weekday liturgy. My liturgy teacher told us we would be amazed by how the experience of davening the prayer would change if we were able to recite it from memory, and because prayers are a form of poetry I know he's right.

Four things not to do:

Don't get too attached to your mental image of what a poet or a poem looks like or sounds like. Don't delete drafts; when you revise, save the file under a new name, so you can track the poem through its evolution later. (If you compose on paper, don't throw away your notebooks.) Don't despair. Don't stop.

As for choosing someone else to answer this, I tap Ivy! (Ivy's first book of poetry, Mortal, is utterly gorgeous, by the way. If you don't own it, and you like poetry, consider adding it to your shelves.)

Ivy, if you're game, I'd love to see your reponse to these questions. (And hey, if not, no worries -- I never want people to feel obligated to participate in perpetuating blog memes.) Shabbat shalom, all.

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